About Me

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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

12 February, 2013

One Year On - Ten Things I Learnt The Year After My Book Came Out

 One Year On - Ten Things I Learnt In The Year After My Book Came Out

A year ago, on 7 February, my debut novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, came out. After years writing and creating several versions of the work, and after thoughtful feedback from fellow writers, I decided on first person POV and a linearly told story. Also, after some positive responses, over three years of trying to solicit an agent but failing to do so, I decided to self-publish and get my book ‘out there.’ Overall, I’m happy with my decision to go indie but, as with anything else, hindsight is twenty/twenty and there were some lessons learnt.

Here are the ten most influential things I learnt about the publishing process and myself, as a writer, over the last twelve months. For those of you who’ve already published, indie or traditional, they might be lessons you’ve yet to learn or they might be things that happened to you as well. And, if that’s the case, feel reassured that you’re not alone. If you’ve yet to publish, maybe my experience may benefit you as you forge ahead in publishing your own work.

1. Believe in myself. When I began the publishing process, and after my novel came out, every discussion I had with a rep from the publisher, every production item I approved (cover, inside layout, etc), every email I sent to a bookseller, I left with feelings of doubt. I second-guessed everything. After all, who would want to read anything I’d written? What did I know about any of this, having never done it before? I kept thinking that anyone I tried to promote my novel to would think that I was just some guy who wrote a book - and, everyone can write a book, right? Big deal. But, once I calmed myself down, I reminded myself that I’d taken this book through three rounds of workshops at The Gotham Writer’s Workshop in New York City, one of the best (my and others’ opinions) and most respected writing programs around. I’d done the hard work. No one panned my work and some of my fellow writers even picked out sections they really liked. I also realised that my book does not define me as a person. The book that came out last year, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, is fiction, while also being semi-autobiographical. In that regard, it is very personal. I also put a lot of my life into the writing and production of the book but, even then, if it’s hated or loved that doesn’t meant I’m hated or loved. As a writer, I can be judged by my work and how it moves the reader but it doesn’t define me as a man.

2. Promotion is hard. I knew, going indie, that I was going to be responsible for the promotion of my book. Even some traditionally published authors have to do their own promoting. From what I’ve read and heard at conferences, it’s the big names - the Kings, Rowlings, Meyers, Picoults, Franzens, etc - who get their publicity done for them. Even then, some of are still doing their own promoting. Many of us who indie-publish still work a day job (and maybe a night or second part-time job) and, like everyone else, we have other parts of our lives that need to be taken care of. So, promoting one’s work can, sometimes, be that ‘extra’ thing to be done at the end of an already long and arduous day. Nonetheless, it has to be done. A Facebook page, a website, a blog and a Twitter account are the minimum you’ll need. You’ll need to build your platform; the 'who you are, what you’re about' centre of your writing and public persona. Do all of that even before you get your book into a publisher or agent’s hands.

3. Print out pages. I thought I was being efficient when I reviewed the PDF copy my publisher sent me on my laptop. Papers can get bulky and we’re in the ‘e age’ anyway, right? On some level, too, I thought I was saving money. However, looking back, I regret not printing out a hardcopy. PDFs don’t always look like a Word document. They’re not brightly lit. It looks like the page in a book and, sometimes, on the screen, unless you magnify a lot, they can be hard to read. Add to that, I probably need a new glasses prescription and I do most of my writing at 3am, with tired eyes, so I was bound to make mistakes and miss things. A writer will always miss stuff in his own work. That’s normal but it doesn’t help when he doesn’t review the final copy the properly. As a result of my efforts at being efficient, I discovered some typos in the final product that I need to correct. And I will correct them but that’s another out of pocket expense with the publisher. If I had printed out pages, I might have caught more of the errors I missed.
4. Have a budget before you start (It doesn’t have to be a big one). When I decided to self-publish, it was the end of the summer. It wasn’t until the following December and January when I had to start paying for things. The money was there for the publishing process. It’s the after stuff where a pre-determined budget comes in handy. Revisions (beyond the free first round), promotion, entering contests for self-published books, paying for book reviews (from companies like Kirkus Indie or Blue Ink) are where the budget will really be needed. Treat your writing as a business, if you’re looking to make a profit, from the start and not just after the book comes out.

5. POD (Print-On-Demand) pricing can be prohibitive. I published through Abbott Press, A Writer’s Digest Company, and I’m very happy with what they did for me and for my book. Probably, the only thing I wasn’t happy with is the retail price of my books. The ebook, at $3.99, isn’t bad. The hardcover, though, at $39.99, and the paperback ($22.99) are not so favourable. It was explained tome that the number of pages of my novel and because of the POD mode of publishing, the cost will be higher than traditionally published or small press books per unit for the reader. Outskirts Press, another POD company, has an option that allows the author to price his own book but it has limits and will reduce royalties. Even with this option, the price to the consumer is still on the higher end. If I indie-publish again, I might go a different route. Amazon’s Createspace, I believe, allows the author to determine his book’s prices but I think they specialize in ebook and paperback formats and not hardcover. Or, I might try a fixed run at a small press or something in the middle, like Book Baby. So, before you publish, make sure the end retail price is not going to price your book out of sales. Good writing will trump a high retail price but we live in leaner times and consumers are tighter fisted with their resources.

6. Learn formatting and industry specs. I mention this, specifically, because of my book’s cover. I’ve gotten a lot of praise for my book’s cover. And, after reading it, you’ll see how it fits nicely with the plot and theme. What I learnt about a book’s cover, when I got my feedback from the judges of The Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, is that a book’s title should be readable from six feet away. This makes it better seen on a bookshelf, which is key if the book makes it onto a shelf in a bookstore. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this and, while my book is aesthetically and stylistically appealing, it doesn’t meet this standard.

7. Make connections. Writing is a very lonely profession. The people around me - my wife and my close friends - have been, and continue to be, very supportive. However, unless they’re also writers, I don’t think the people around us can truly appreciate the isolated and internal way of life being a writer is. Having said that, however, unless you’re Forrester, Sean Connery’s character in Finding Forrester, writers need support from other writers. Whether it’s to promote each other’s books, beta-read first drafts, offer suggestions to battle writer’s block, writers need writers. We can find each other on Twitter but, more specifically, connections are also made in website communities like The Independent Author Network, Your Book Authors, Goodreads, Scribophile, and others. More than the tangible benefits you can get from being connected to other writers, there is the sense of community you’ll feel. In addition to be pursuing a, naturally, lonely endeavour, writers also need validation. This doesn’t mean we need to be told our work is brilliant, whether it is or isn’t. Rather, it’s reassuring to know that our efforts and reasons for writing, as varied as they are, are worth something and that we are not alone, even if we’re lonely. Through the connections I’ve made and re-made since my book came out, I and/or my book has been featured in two newspapers, a magazine and reviewed once. At the time of this writing, Back Kicks And Broken Promises is being reviewed, for free, by Indiereader.com thanks to a connection I made.

8. Always have a copy of your book with you. You never know when you might be in a position to promote your work. You never know whom you might meet someone who has contacts and can/will/might talk about you and your book. Sometimes, though, you do and you’re not prepared. Last year, after reading Legend, I emailed the author, Marie Lu, to tell her how much I loved the book (her debut novel) and that I’d written a review of it. She was very flattered by my review and since then we’ve had some Twitter and e-mail exchanges; enough, I think, to the point that she might actually recognize my name. Well, shortly after our first email exchange, she gave a reading and book signing with three other authors in New York City. When I lined up to get my copy of Legend signed, Marie looked at me with recognition, probably from my Twitter picture. As we chatted, she asked if I had a copy of my book. Ugh! I didn’t and I kick myself (metaphorically) every time I think about this episode in my life. Having had a copy of my book to give her might not have led to anything but, then again, who knows? The worst part about this story: I’d thought to bring one then I decided against it, fearing I’d come across as presumptuous. Then, I decided to bring it anyway but I left it on my dining table.

9. Enter contests. Apart from the chance you might win or place - and many contests come with some kind of publisher/agent contact as a prize - you often get valuable insights into your book and/or a review of some kind. Most require some kind of entry fee (see Number 4 above) but it’s not usually so large that it’s unaffordable. I participated in NaNoWriMo last November and I completed the challenge. I ‘won.’ I finished writing the first draft of a novel in thirty days, which has jumpstarted my writing and there are even tangible prizes that come with it. I can get free copies of my book from Createspace and there are several discounts for various writing resources, as well. So, contests and challenges are beneficial.

10. Believe in my work. As soon as my book went live, butterflies lived inside me for a good two weeks. I was filled with anxiety that no one would buy my book. I’m pretty sure that’s common for every writer. More than that, however, were feelings that the entire reading world would buy my book and call me out as a hack or fill my blog comment form and email inbox with challenges to every thought, word, reference, you name it that I put to paper. My fears, so far, haven’t come true. My book has made some sales, although VERY modest numbers, and no one has taken me to task on the content of my book. It’s fiction, after all, and semi-autobiographical at that. Even if someone were to come at it/me, I’ve come to accept that (and I knew this before) some people will love my work, some will hate it, and some will be indifferent to it. Either way, I wrote a book that has received more words of praise than otherwise and I did so with full commitment of mind, heart and soul. I hope it will entertain, educate and touch the minds and hearts of its reader and, from the feedback I’ve gotten, it has done that.

So, that’s what I’ve learnt about writing, publishing and myself since my book came out a year ago. As I work on my next book, the first in a Chinese-American fantasy series, I have some wisdom to turn to and an awareness of things to do, do better and to avoid. I don’t plan on indie-publishing for my next book, but I didn’t either for my debut novel. Hopefully, I’ll catch the proverbial break and get agent representation and a book deal. In the meantime, I’m going to tap my keys like the rest of us.

I hope what you’ve read here is useful in as you pursue your writing endeavours. If you have insights of your own, please share.

Happy writing all!

07 February, 2013

A Year in a Writer's Life - 2012

Last year, I did a two-part post on my birthday that looked back on my successes and failures of the previous twelve months. Since turning forty - well, since my mid-thirties, really - I've been looking back, taking strolls down memory lane, to see what I've done, where I've been and how I've ended up where I am. In doing so, I've tried to assess the things I've done well and succeeded in and the things I've totally botched up and failed in and sometimes miserably.
So, turning forty-four a week ago, I've been thinking about these things yet again. And, this year, they're more impacting. I don't know if that is because my successes and failures - particularly my failures - mean more because of my age. They seem more depressing because, even though I'm still young, with every passing year there's less time to turn those failures into successes. Perhaps, it's because next year is the midpoint year of my fifth decade and I'm feeling pressure to have made an impact on this world in a small or - why not? - large way.  I remember how glum I was turning forty. I can only speculate that turning forty-five on 31 January, 2014 isn't exactly going to be any better. The following May, my wife and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. So, next year, is a big year for us. But that's next year. This year is still young and will, hopefully, see more successes than failures.

In the meantime, though, here's a look back on 2012.

January -

2012 was, in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the Year of the Dragon. The dragon, the animal in Chinese mythology that represents the highest ideals, made 2012 a year full of optimism and bullishness. And, things looked that way for me. In the year's first month, I reconnected with a former student - someone I hadn't see or been in touch with since 1999 - and he became a major help in the promotion of my book. Ryan, my former student, is now a successful boxing pundit who lives half the year in New York and half the year in Manila. Yes, he's Fil-Am like I am. Funnily, reconnecting with him also saw me reconnecting with another Filipino writer, Carissa Villacorta. In 2006, Carissa and I connected via email about her book, Serendipity. It was by chance, in casual conversation, when I discovered that Ryan and Carissa are an item. So, 2012 was looking up. Connecting with fellow Filipino-American writers boosted my excitement that 2012 was going to be a good year for me as a writer.

February -

My writing took a boost in February when my debut novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, came out. Naturally, and I'm sure my fellow writers, especially the indie authors, will relate to how I checked my book's sales ranks in every outlet that was carrying it. I was very excited to find out that W. H. Smith, England's Barnes And Noble, had it in its database. I was equally excited - and very pleasantly surprised - to discover that an outlet in India is selling my book, too! (Now, if I can only get it to stores - even if  just online - in The Philippines and Hong Kong (where I was born and where I grew up and call home, respectively) I'll be really happy.

February was extra special because my niece from England, my eldest sister's daughter, came to visit us. It was her first time in America and she'd come for a dance show/audition being given by a K-Pop group. During my niece's week with us, Legend and Prodigy author, Marie Lu, with writers Beth Revis, Jessica Spottswood and Andrea Cremer gave a reading and Q&A in New York. Having just finished reading Legend, and loving it, I HAD to go. And I did, bringing my wife, son and niece with me. Before going, Marie and I had exchanged some tweets and, when I got to meet her, it was with a sense that she knew who I was or, at least, recgonised my name. Naturally, that made me feel great but it also made me feel a part of the larger writing community. Like a dope, I'd forgotten to bring a copy of my book with me. It wasn't until I was on the train that I realised I'd left it at home. I think, subconsciously, I didn't want to appear presumptuous but I felt instant regret, and anger at myself for not bringing my book, when Marie asked if I had a copy. Argh! Despite that, it was a great night.

While not wanting to be pushy by bringing my book, perhaps I was too pushy in trying to get my book into a couple of stores. Or, maybe, because it's indie-published it was doomed from getting onto a bookshelf from the start. I'd made contact with a couple of local bookstores and they said they'd love to carry my book, especially since I'm local; my book is set in New Jersey, etc. Well, as you can imagine, my book never got on any of their shelves; although I do know of some people who've ordered it from them.

February saw me do my first two author interviews. One was for The Filipino Reporter by my friend (and former student) Ryan. The other was via email for The Manila Bulletin. The Bulletin interview was extra special because that newspaper, the largest daily in The Philippines, came to me. It was until recently that I found out they were alerted to my book by dad, who’s the Managing Editor on The Manila Times, another daily newspaper in The Philippines.

March -

As far as my writing life, March was a pretty quiet month. I spent more time trying to promote my work then create new stuff. And, hindsight being twenty-twenty, I think that was okay. Like marathoners who crash, emotionally as well as physically, at the conclusion of their race, I crashed after Back Kicks came out. From start to finish, I'd spent almost ten years on it. Intuitively, as much as I wanted to write, I was struggling to do put anything down. Eventually, I would give a go at adapting one of my screenplays into a novel - a project I've put on the side for now while I finish revisions on my second novel, Sage Of Heaven.

So, for March, the big things were my defense of the New Jersey State Taekwondo title I'd won in 2011 and my return to running, in the hope that I would get into the NY City Marathon via its lottery system.

April -

Good Friday was a big day for me. April 5, 2012. I'd seen my name in print before but that was for articles I'd written for various martial arts magazines. This time, though, my name was in the paper - The Filipino Reporter - in the article Ryan had written. When I opened the issue and saw my picture and read the piece, I recall my heart was racing. Yes, I was excited but there was also a touch of nervousness and trepidation running through me. Other than tweeting about my book and offering a giveaway through Goodreads, this was the first time - and, at this point - the largest exposure my book was getting. While one part of me hoped and prayed that the piece would yield mega book sales, the other part feared rejection and being called a 'fraud' as a writer and as a Filipino-American writer. (Click here for the article.)

At around the same time, I'd gotten a rejection letter from Barnes and Noble about carrying my book on its shelves. I'd expected as much, since my book is indie-published and POD at that, but the retailer's rejection only exacerbated the insecurities I'd felt about being accepted into the Filipino-American community as one of its literary voices of the current generation.

As a martial artist, who calls Hong Kong home, the one thing that, as silly as this is going to sound, made me feel really good about the article was my name being used in the same sentence (when read, said with the same breath) as Bruce Lee. And, not only are our names said with the same breath, they're used in the same context. I'm no way the quality of martial artist that Bruce Lee was but, perhaps, because of the contextual similarity, I may possess some of the qualities of the kind of man and Asian-American man, he was.

While there was this martial arts related joy, there was martial art related sadness too. The Taekwondo classes I had been teaching were ended due to lack of enrollment due to a variety of factors. The bottom line, though, was that my second go around at being the master of my own program failed. At least this time, I didn't have my own commercial space and the headache that comes with giving that up. It also, however, means that my son will probably have to learn from another master and my hope and dream of him carrying on the Bas Taekwondo tradition, in the old way of passing lessons down from father to son, is not likely going to happen. It doesn't look like we're going to go the way of Al and Mark Dacascos, Ernie Reyes, senior and junior, Ed Parker and his son, Tiger Kim and his sons, and other father-son martial arts dynasties.

April 25 was another big day for me as I was accepted into the NYC Marathon. That would determine a lot in the upcoming months. Some of it good, some of it not so good.

May -

Ryan and Carissa came to New York in May and we got together for a dim sum meal in Chinatown, NYC. It was great to see Ryan again, for the first time since 2000! And, it was super nice to meet Carissa in person. Getting to spend time with them, talking about the Philippines and writing, was a thrill; probably more than they are aware. Ryan is a renowned boxing journalist. Carissa is a respected and known writer and PR professional. I consider both of them friends first but, because of who they are and what they've achieved, and me knowing them personally, there's a certain validation to my identity as a writer. Slowly, with each connection I make, post-publishing my book, I feel like I'm getting deeper into the writing community.

May also saw the interview I did with The Manila Bulletin come out (click here for the article.) and I did my third interview, this time for Hyphen Magazine. That interview just came out in Issue 26 (January 2013) and I was one of several authors questioned about being a self-published Asian-American author, the state of publishing and Asian-American representation in popular literature. The editor at Hyphen who wrote the article, books editor Abi Licad, also assigned my book for review. So, all in all, May was a big month for me and Back Kicks And Broken Promises.

June, July, August - 

These were fairly light months all around. That's what the summer is for, anyway, right?

As far as writing goes, it was this time that I returned to putting pen to paper full-time, so to speak. I began adapting my screenplay Aliens Among Us into a novel but I still haven't finished. I was also rereading Back Kicks to make revisions, additions and correct the typos I'd discovered. (That, in and of itself, is something I'm going to write about in my next blog post.)

The summer also saw the US National Taekwondo Championships take place - this time in Dallas - but I wasn't able to go. I was hoping to go and try to better my tenth place finish in 2011. Maybe I'll get to try, this year, in Chicago, instead.

We did get to have a mini-vacation on Long Island again. My wife's friend has a place in Montauk and we were able to use it for a few days. What was really exciting, as a dad, was to see how my son reacted to being there again. We'd gone in 2010 and Jude seemed to remember some of the places we visited, even one of the beaches. He even got braver with the water, venturing closer to it and even getting in it without insisting on our help. In fact, there were times when we wouldn't let him because the waves were too strong and, without our support, he'd have gotten sucked out. These trips - to the beach, to Manila, excursions across the country for Taekwondo events - are so good for him that I can't express with enough gratitude for my wife's friend's generosity.

September -

School's back in session and so is the volleyball season (I'm our high school's head coach) and we had the best season since I've been involved with the program. Not a lot of writing got down during September and October but the review of my book, in Hyphen
, came out. It was another one of those good days turned to sour, in a way. 

It was September 27 and I'd arrived home from a volleyball match. We'd won, to go 6-3 for the season and we were on a five-match winning streak. So, naturally, I was on a high. After reporting the match to the newspaper and updating the girls stats in various volleyball website, I checked to see if the review had come out. And it had. The reviewer gave it his opinion and I appreciate him for it. And, someone did remind me that it's the reviewer's opinion and just one opinion, at that. Other than this, I'd gotten some really good comments for Back Kicks. Regardless, it still stung. It wasn't a scathing review. In fact, the reviewer, G. Justin Hulog, did have some praise for parts of my book. (Click here to read it.) It wasn't a raving review either. I quickly consoled myself by recalling a couple of things I'd been told before: "All press, even bad press, is good press" and "Being talked about negatively is better than not being talked about at all." I don't know if I believe either of these things wholeheartedly but when you're trying to market something there might be some truth to them.

October and November -

What a mess this month was with Hurricane Sandy hitting New Jersey, New York and other parts of the eastern United States. In a way, though, the effects of Sandy, which weren't too bad for me personally, were great for my writing. We didn't get flooded but we did lose power. With no TV watch and, with the gas shortage and rationing, no place to go, I relied on hanging with my family, reading and writing to pass the time. After attending mass, I discovered that the church had opened its hall for residents to charge devices, use the internet, etc. Well, we were there and I wrote. And it was perfect, too, because I decided to enter the NaNoWriMo challenge to finish writing a novel, of at least 50,000 words, in the thirty days of November. And I did it. There are revisions to be done, which I am doing now, but I managed the first draft in the month. (Click here for more on NaNoWriMo). So, in the 'take the good from the bad' frame of mind, Hurricane Sandy was the boost my writing endeavours needed.

As a result of Sandy, I didn't get to run the NYC Marathon because it was cancelled but I was okay with that. I felt it should've been cancelled in light of the devastation the storm caused and where it hit hard (parts of the marathon course). Others disagree, but I think it would've been in poor taste to run the race and, thanks to the storm, I wasn't in the right mind to run it.

Writer's Digest has its Self-Published Book Awards every year. Entry is in May and, in October, they notify entrants whether they won or not and they give all entrants feedback.  I didn't win, place or get any kind of honourable mention but I did get some praise and, more importantly, constructive feedback for future books I write, regardless of whether I indie pub or not.

Lastly, in these months, my son saw his first Broadway show (Peter and the Star-Catcher) and I came to realise how much I love Thanksgiving. Christmas is still my favourite holiday but there's something special about Thanksgiving that makes it a close second. Watching the Macy's Parade with my family, the lead-up to the holiday season proper holds a special place in my heart. I find it a little curious that Thanksgiving holds such a special place in my heart considering I didn't have it growing up in Hong Kong. While many immigrants hold on, sometimes illogically to things from home or their past, just because they're from home, I've taken to Thanksgiving like I've always had it. There could be a story here. Hmm.

December -

And, finally, it's December. Not much happened except for our early Christmas in New Jersey and our trip for Christmas to Manila. Busy popping from one place to another to see various family and friends, I didn't get much writing done - other than a few blog posts - but I did get to marvel at my son. I'm not the 'gushing dad' type but it was great to see Jude try Hot Chocolate for the first time. He's become an ube ice cream fan (just like his dad) and he watched his first Filipino movie in the theatre. While he didn't understand the Tagalog (I barely did), he got the entire story, has become enthralled with the Filipino superheroes in it and he's starting to appreciate his Filipino-ness.

And, with our layover in Hong Kong, he's coming to understand that his mother and I have interesting backgrounds and that there's this really amazing and interesting place, called The World, outside of New Jersey. As he puts it, "Daddy, when you were a kid, your world was Hong Kong. Mommy's world was Manila and my world is New Jersey."

So, those were the highlights for me in 2012. Some of you may have found it boring and a complete waste of time reading it. For that, sorry. Some of you may have found some entertainment in it. Others, maybe, found something useful - a tidbit about Taekwondo or indie-publishing, perhaps. Either way, whether you're forty-four, twenty-four or ninety-four, it's always good to look back. It helps you assess where you want to go and how to get there. It helps you appreciate where you've been. And, as a writer, it can serve as good writing material. But, most of all, it helps you appreciate who you are and who you want to be. And, without that, all of the outside stuff has no meaning.

Thanks for stopping by and, as Chinese New Year approaches, best wishes for 2013 and Gung Hei Fat Choi!

06 February, 2013

iTune Music Download Problem.

Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you can help.

Anyone have is the problem and fixed it? I bought two Katherine Jenkins albums from iTunes on my iPad.

After downloading, one album was complete but the other wasn't and had a Show Complete Album. I hit the button and the entire song list shows up but some of the songs are not downloaded and they have a Download Song button. Some, but not all, of those songs also appear in the other album.

When I download those songs, songs from the complete album suddenly disappear and the Show Complete Album button appears there.

Apple has gotten back to me but their instructions yield the same results. I contacted them just now but have not yet heard back.

Anyone, suggestions, fixes? You can reply to this post or send me a tweet if you have any ideas.